Lichen Frittata

A Suburb By Any Other Name

Posted in Uncategorized by lichenfrittata on January 13, 2009

n115005_36151471_68Another surreal experience a couple days ago, this one having to do with real estate.

While staying the night at a beautiful design-and-build cabin on the Olympic Peninsula, we came across the new Seabrook development, an 80-acre tract of housing on a slope looking out at the Pacific Ocean. Curious, we splashed through the empty streets, which trail off into forest through construction sites, exclaiming at the bizarreness of it all: a perfect Pleasantville with houses you might find on Cape Cod or Martha’s Vineyard, quaint streetlights and retro bicycles and everything. It felt like some cardboard movie set or theme park than a real town where people might live—I almost expected a Disneyland Granny Mavis character to pop out and wave hello.

Seabrook, in its amazing plaques and glowing business section profiles, professes adherence to the principles of New Urbanism: walkability, sustainability, and diversity, among others. And with its parks and sidewalks and mix of architectural plans, it’s a far cry from the sterile subdivisions that have blanketed America from sea to shining sea. But they’re engaging in selective advertising, because in the bigger picture, Seabrook profoundly misses the mark. The saleswoman freely admitted that only 10% of the owners lived there year-round—the rest rent, mostly during the summer (the area gets about 12 feet of rain per year). So it’s a high-end vacation town trading on its “traditional” feel where people drive in, spend a few days, and leave. How does one make a real community out of that? More to the point, how can that possibly be characterized as new urbanism, which as Matt Dellinger in this month’s Atlantic reminded me, involves being part of some kind of transportation network? The self-righteous ad copy, when the whole project is such an unnecessary imposition on a fragile ecosystem, makes me want to vomit.

Down the road is run-down Pacific Beach, with its genuinely funky junk shops and ramshackle rentals. Further on is the Quinault Indian reservation, poorer still. If the Seabrookers wanted to create a real “authentic” beach town, they’d reinvest in those communities. Otherwise, I’d rather have them stick to the Vineyard.

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